Davina McCall has spent over 20 years on our screens as a bubbly TV presenter. Having concurred addiction issues earlier in her life, she now dedicates much of her time to fitness and campaigning for women's health issues. Prior to the release of her new book 'Menopausing' and Bath Forum show, we talked about what body confidence means to her...
How are you feeling body confidence-wise? Are there any areas of your body you're really chuffed with?
It’s a really weird thing, body confidence. It’s nothing to do with what your body actually looks like and everything to do with how you feel about yourself. I think it's mother's mother nature's way of helping you feel a bit better about getting older – you generally just feel a bit better about everything, including yourself.
Anything that you're really proud of body-wise?
I guess I'm just proud of myself. I’m doing alright. I'm relatively fit, I’m quite well, I’ve got three kids and we've got a great relationship. I’m proud of all of those things. Interestingly, pride in my career comes quite low down the list of things I'm proud of. I’m most proud of my family and my health.
Any part of your body you have to really work at?
I would definitely say my weight, as I’ve got older. I think your metabolism slows down a bit. I have to be really fastidious about not letting my weight go over half a stone one way or half a stone the other way. I'd say my weight stays at like 10 Stone, and I can either go up to 10 and a half or down to nine and a half, and 10 stone is probably where my body likes to sit. At Christmas it might go to 10 and a half and then in the summer I might be down to 9st 10, because I’m thinking ‘bikini’! But I have to work on that hard, so I’d probably do more cardio and one strength training sessions a week.
Do you get nervous wearing a bikini?
No, never. I don’t care what people think. It’s something people might notice about me – I don’t massively care about being on a public beach. At Christmas I got relentlessly papped. There must have been a guy camped outside the house we were renting because he followed me for
hours outside of Sydney. He papped me every single day I was on the beach. In the end, I felt like… That’s when you start getting really self-conscious, when you think, ‘these pictures are going to go everywhere’. But you just have to let it go. I’ve seen women of all sizes wear bikinis but it’s [body confidence] nothing to do with your size. The ones that are really owning it are the ones who look gorgeous. They could be a size 20 or a size eight, but if you feel great in your skin you’re going to look hot whatever size you are.
"It feels very natural to me. Sometimes people say, 'I can't imagine getting up on stage and performing. It would be so terrifying.' But you don't choose that life – it's almost a calling, something you just have to do."
Same fears as other women? Any fat days?
Oh god yes. And I’ll tell you what happens to me, which I find really funny and I’d be interested to know whether other women have this as well. But I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror and I think, ‘nice!’ – looking good, feeling great. But when I go to bed, I think ‘who are you?’ when I look in the mirror. I feel like I’ve grown by two dress sizes, I’m all swollen and retaining water. I seem to lose two dress sizes overnight. It’s really weird! I’ll put on a pair of jeans in the morning and think ‘these fit nicely’ and I’m having dinner at night and having to undo the top button. I can’t have grown this much in a day! It’s so odd. It’s just water retention throughout the day. But I look in the mirror in the evening and think ‘Jesus, what happened?’
Can you talk me through your diet?
I don’t follow a diet. Some days I eat terribly but the majority of the time I eat very well. Generally, the terrible days will be those when I haven’t got the kids, I come home and have 30 seconds to just grab something out of the fridge, so I might have a salami sandwich with tons of butter. On a normal day I wouldn’t eat cured meats too much. But I just throw caution to the wind because I have no time and I’ve got to run. But other times… home cooked food is the gift you give to yourself. I’m very into quick and easy to make meals. For example, fajita sauce is the greatest discovery of all time. I put that on everything. I’ll do an onion, red pepper and chicken thing with fajita sauce with brown rice. I love that and it’s so easy to make. Or I might shallow fry some chickpeas, just so they are warm, and sprinkle them with some fajita sauce and then I might cut up some iceberg lettuce and use that as a little scoop. I’ll add some hummus and maybe some red onion or sweetcorn. Frozen sweetcorn is the greatest invention ever. It’s so delicious and we actually fry sweetcorn. We shallow fry it
Any snacks or food groups you avoid?
My biggest downfall – and i do eat it, usually when I go to a restaurant – but I struggle eating three courses in a restaurant. If I go to a restaurant with friends, I’d just order a main course. I may have a pudding in a restaurant, but I’ll try and go as healthy as I can with the pudding. It really annoys me when people order starters. I’m such a difficult friend. What happens is that I eat the entire bread basket. They have their starter, which is probably very healthy, and I’m being pious and not eating the starter, but what I’m actually doing is quietly and very sneakily and slowly eating the entire bread basket and all the butter. Nobody gets the butter. Butter and bread are a real weakness of mine, butter in general. Fat in moderation is not bad. Everybody says you have to eat low fat. I do eat some low-fat things, but usually things that haven’t been tampered with too much, but fat is not bad for you.
How about sugar?
I have tried to stop sugar. I haven’t had chocolate or sweets since January, because I fell off the wagon a bit last year and it doesn’t make me feel good. I feel much better without added sugar in my diet. I do have a bit of honey, but added added sugar – sweets, chocolate – made me feel super bad. I feel sluggish and bloated when I have sugar, my tummy just kind of pops out and sometimes it’ll give me a tummy ache. My skin really suffers if I have sugar. I get spotty. I’ve found it really hard. One of the things I did during the month of January was stop eating fruit. Now I’m eating it again, because obviously fruit is an important source of fibre. But I wanted to get rid of that real need for something sweet. That really helped. For a month I did that and come February I started eating it again and it was fine.
Must dos? Like drinking six cups of water a day?
No I’m rubbish like that. I’m much better at drinking water in the summer. In the winter, I’m a tea person. I think there are enough things that we beat ourselves up with in life – there are so many things that we all get stressed about – ‘Oh my god, I haven’t hit my water quota! Oh my god, the circles haven’t met on my Apple watch!’. Let’s all just be nice to ourselves. My motto is to exercise when you can and enjoy it.
Time off just to indulge?
A quick and unhealthy snack for me would be a packet noodle! If i’m pressed for time and I’ve just come in from work and I need to go and pick up Chester, I’ll do that. That’s not an indulgence per se. It’s a necessity. But I don’t feel bad about it because the vast majority of the time I eat really well. So i don’t beat myself up about it. Sometimes I’ll have bangers, mash and beans with the kids and I really enjoy that. And we have a roast every Sunday. You know, I really enjoy my roast, but then I’ll go mega light in the evening.
How do you maintain your impressive abs?? Do you do 50 sit ups a day?
God no. I think part of it is genetic. If you have really skinny legs and when you were pregnant you just looked like you had a football up your jumper, the chance are that you’re going to struggle with a six pack because your body stores your fat around your middle. My body is the other way - it stores my fat around my bum and my thighs, and my tummy is the last place I put on weight. When I was pregnant, I just looked like a bimp (??). All of me looked pregnant - my legs, my bum, my tummy. You could really tell I was pregnant because I put on weight everywhere. But as long as I keep my weight at a place where I’m happy with it, my muscles just show because I don’t carry fat there in the same way another body shape would. I do do planks and that’s part of my workout, but I only work out three times a week, four times a week. I’d love to work out more if I could, but I just don’t have the time. I work out on my own at the moment or in classes, but I’m just struggling with timetables. I’m struggling to get to as many classes as I used to because life is very busy. I usually just work out here, by myself to the videos on my Own Your Goals sitet. That’s my fitness website and I obviously have access to it for free, which is great, so ridiculously I just work out to myself! There are millions of types of workout, like kettle bells, pilates, yoga, HIIT, dance. It’s never boring! I also run. I love running. And i do spin classes.
What do you put your high energy levels down to?
I don’t work out every day, but I definitely think that being fit and healthy gives you more energy and it also helps with your mindset and mental health in a really big way. So I think keeping your mind vibrant is super important to your entire outlook on life. It relieves stress in a huge way. I've got a lot going on in my head and at work and with my kids, I’ve got three teenagers, you know, and everybody's got their own life and they all think they’re the most important person and they all need a lot of attention. You know, my job and my home life is quite demanding and hectic. And you often think, when you've got a hectic life, ‘oh I can't work out’. But actually that’s the one thing you should keep doing, because it does help just clear your head for a moment, get everything in perspective. So I would say working out, and I'm a big one for making lists. Make a list for the day and cross things off the list. I also quickly want to say about food. You know that old adage that we are what we eat? Just recently Michael Douglas and I have been doing a podcast together called Making the Cut and in it we review things, and we had a gut health doctor on called Dr Megan Rossi. She is unbelievable. And we were reviewing all thing gut health like kefir and all these tests you can take with your hair. You have to listen to the podcast because it’s too long to explain, but she was telling us about the immune system. You are what you eat. So everything - your energy, vibrancy, skin, mental health is also massively connected to your gut. It’s what you put into your body. She also talks about probiotics - they’re very specific. Specific probiotics should be taken for specific things like if you’re on antibiotics, there’s a specific probiotic that you should take for that. Basically taking just a general probiotic, you don't know what bacteria you have in your gut and what it needs. I don’t take a probiotic now because she told me not to, it’s not worth it unless you know specifically which one you need to take.
Back to your earlier point about feeling better than you did at the age of 18 - can you expand on that?
I totally think that you get more confident as you get older. Obviously, it’s not about what my body looks like - of course, my body looked better when I was 18. But it's more about how I feel about myself. And in turn, when you feel better about yourself or when you care less about what other people think about you, there’s a confidence that comes with that that weirdly makes you look better.
Harder to keep in shape?
What you do is that you get to know your body type. Instinctively, you know what type of exercise suits you. And instinctively, you get to know what types of food suit you and which types don’t. I don't like eating starchy carbs, they just sink me. And i’m not doing the kind of huge physical challenges that I did before and so I just don't need to carb up. I know that about myself, I can feel it. I do think you just kind of learn to listen to your body more.
How do you feel about the ageing process?
It doesn’t scare me really. I think what scares me more is like living to 100 and being unhealthy and decrepit but still being alive. I sort of fear that more; I’m having the time of my life at the moment, so the aging process hasn’t really hit me yet.
Great success recently and I've read that you're building your own home… You have quite a lot going on! Best year yet?
Yeah, I mean it’s going to be the most hectic. My god, it’s mad. But potentially it’s going to be the most exciting year.
What made you want to build your own home?
It’s probably everybody’s dream, isn’t it, to have a home exactly the way you want it. It’s such a funny concept, buying a house and changing everything in it to make it as you want it. So I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to build one from scratch, especially as I’m a huge fan of Grand Designs. I did think, should I film this? Make a documentary of this? But then I thought, no, because I will have a breakdown and I’m not ready to share that with Britain. I’ve got the plot of land, haven’t broken ground yet, but all plans are in place.
Do other women who look great in their fifties, like Jennifer Aniston, provide you with any inspiration?
I mean all women provide me with nonstop inspiration. I follow lots of people on social media. Fearne Cotton, I love, and Holly Willoughby is one of the nicest people I know. Angie Smith, my stylist, is literally the most stylish woman I know. I get inspiration from so many different women.
And I think we're in that time, it feels like the Age of Aquarius for women, with women embracing each other. We’re so lucky in that we find it very easy to talk to each other and reach out to each other. I think there’s a new wave of people saying ‘let’s be kinder and more inclusive’. It feels nicer?
Facials and treatments?
I don’t really have time. Probably about four times a year I’ll go for this red light treatment with exfoliation and glycolic peel. But I’m quite low-maintenance. I just wash my face and go. I use a face scrub. I’ve used Garnier Ultralift for about 18 years. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!
Much-loved presenter Davina McCall is spearheading a movement to get EVERYONE talking about the menopause. She’ll be at the Bath Forum on September 17th to tell her own story and introduce us to Menopausing, her brand-new book that aims to explore and explain the science, debunk myths and smash taboos. Come and join the menopause uprising!